Joseph Herrin (09-28-09)
Note: This post is part of a series on the marriage covenant. It is not intended to be taken as a standalone teaching, but received in the larger context in which it is presented. It is not intended to advocate the practice of polygamy, but rather to present a Biblically correct view of the subject that questions related to marriage, divorce, remarriage, and a clear definition of what constitutes adultery may be arrived at. To understand this teaching in its context, please begin with the first post in this series, and read them all in order.
Before moving forward to speak on betrothal, I believe it is needful to speak somewhat further on the subject just disclosed, which is polygamy. Admittedly, this is a subject that is new to me in that I have never taught on it before. Before this week, I had never looked at the matter in any depth.
As I have looked further into this topic I have found that there are Christians who practice polygamy today, even in America. My daughter told me of a friend of hers who is returning from Alaska. While there she met many woman who wear headcoverings, clothe themselves in modest dress, and are in plural marraiges. Many prefer to speak of the practice of polygamy as “Plural Marriage,” for the word polygamy has become stigmatized by society. You can find a website by one such group at the following URL.
As I have continued to ponder this topic, I have observed further instances of it in the Scriptures. I have also considered some Scriptures that are difficult to understand, which some view as a denunciation of a man having more than one wife. I believe these Bible passages should be shared before moving forward.
I am hopeful that those reading these teachings will test all that has been set forth. I wish that all would be as the noble Bereans, searching the Scriptures, while inviting the Spirit of Christ to guide them. I do not mind having any teaching challenged. Indeed, I have often encouraged the saints to be diligent in their personal examination of all things that their understanding might rest upon the testimony of God rather than the testimony of man.
I have received much encouragement in these teachings by those who want to know what the Scriptures teach. There are some who prefer the counsel of God to the orthodoxy of men, even when God’s counsel is unpopular. One brother in Christ wrote me the following:
I wanted to send you a quick note of encouragement, because I can only imagine the flak that you are going to receive over the most recent ParablesBlog post regarding polygamy and adultery as defined by the Word of truth. If most have not done so already, you will most surely be called a heretic now! Yet, I know that you speak the truth and I love you for it and will continue to stand with you as long as you continue to seek to correctly divide the word of God, not caring what men may think. I was reminded of the following testimony that the Pharisee spoke of Jesus. I think it rings true of you as well even though the Pharisee’s motives in making these statements were not genuine. Still, what they spoke about Christ was true-
They sent their disciples to him along with the Herodians. “Teacher,” they said, “we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are.
They came to him and said, “Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are; but you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?
So the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth.
I appreciate the sincere comments and questions that I have received. Yahweh has encouraged me greatly to press on with this teaching. I will share a few additional insights pertaining to the allowance Yahweh has made for a man to have more than one living wife. First I will mention an instance in which Yahweh portrays Himself as having more than one wife.
The word of Yahweh came to me again saying, “Son of man, there were two women, the daughters of one mother; and they played the harlot in Egypt. They played the harlot in their youth; there their breasts were pressed, and there their virgin bosom was handled. And their names were Oholah the elder and Oholibah her sister. And they became Mine, and they bore sons and daughters. And as for their names, Samaria is Oholah, and Jerusalem is Oholibah.”
Without question, Yahweh would never set forth an image of Himself as an adulterer. Therefore, it must be concluded that the example He has used here is not to be construed as adultery. The righteousness of Yahweh is not impugned in any way by this analogy.
A further example is found in the Law which Yahweh delivered to Moses. This is related to the subject of the kinsman redeemer. If a man took a wife, and he died before having offspring, his name would be cut-off from the land. This was considered a great tragedy. To prevent this from occurring, the brother of the deceased man was instructed to take his wife, and to raise up seed for the deceased. The firstborn, in this way, would take the name of the dead brother, and be considered his descendant. Any further sons and daughters would belong to the living brother.
“When brothers live together and one of them dies and has no son, the wife of the deceased shall not be married outside the family to a strange man. Her husband’s brother shall go in to her and take her to himself as wife and perform the duty of a husband’s brother to her. And it shall be that the first-born whom she bears shall assume the name of his dead brother, that his name may not be blotted out from Israel.”
Note here that there is no mention whatsoever of the living brother being required to be single. It would very often happen to be the case that the only living brother, or brothers, would be married. Despite this fact, these men were to take the brother’s wife to be their own, and to raise up seed for the deceased. We can therefore observe that there were times when Yahweh REQUIRED a man to take another wife.
A similar, albeit far less noble, example is found in the laws pertaining to a man who saw a virgin and lusted after her. Should this man force the virgin to have sexual relations with him, upon being found out, he was required to marry the maiden.
“If a man finds a girl who is a virgin, who is not engaged, and seizes her and lies with her and they are discovered, then the man who lay with her shall give to the girl’s father fifty shekels of silver, and she shall become his wife because he has violated her; he cannot divorce her all his days.”
Once again, we find nothing stated in the instructions that would alter this command if the man who violated the maiden was already married. It was lawful for a man to have more than one wife. Therefore the man who was married, and who forced a virgin and was discovered, would of necessity have to receive a second wife.
There are likewise, other commands not yet named which are found in the Law that Yahweh delivered to Moses. These laws set guidelines for the man who has more than one wife. Following is the unusual case of a man who takes a slave girl to be his wife.
And if a man sells his daughter as a female slave, she is not to go free as the male slaves do. If she is displeasing in the eyes of her master who designated her for himself, then he shall let her be redeemed. He does not have authority to sell her to a foreign people because of his unfairness to her. And if he designates her for his son, he shall deal with her according to the custom of daughters. If he takes to himself another woman, he may not reduce her food, her clothing, or her conjugal rights.
There is a great deal of evidence in the Scriptures to allow those interested to test this matter. The conclusion is certain: Yahweh permitted a man to have more than one wife. Yahweh never condemned a man as an adulterer, or even as a transgressor, if he had more than one wife. As we have seen, Yahweh blessed many men who had a plurality of wives, and has given these men a name, that they are righteous. These men include Abraham, Jacob (Israel), and David. It is very possible that even Moses had more than one living wife.
Now the priest of Midian had seven daughters; and they came to draw water, and filled the troughs to water their father’s flock. Then the shepherds came and drove them away, but Moses stood up and helped them, and watered their flock. When they came to Reuel their father, he said, “Why have you come back so soon today?” So they said, “An Egyptian delivered us from the hand of the shepherds; and what is more, he even drew the water for us and watered the flock.” And he said to his daughters, “Where is he then? Why is it that you have left the man behind? Invite him to have something to eat.” And Moses was willing to dwell with the man, and he gave his daughter Zipporah to Moses.
Here we read of Moses marrying Zipporah, who was the daughter of the priest of Midian. Zipporah was a Midianite, and therefore a descendant of Abraham.
Now Abraham took another wife, whose name was Keturah. And she bore to him Zimran and Jokshan and Medan and Midian…
Moses’ first wife was acceptable to his family, for she was a descendant of Abraham, and a Shemite (Semite), a descendant of Noah’s son Shem. Later, Moses took a wife who was a Cushite.
Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Cushite woman whom he had married (for he had married a Cushite woman)…
The land of Cush, is synonymous with Ethiopia. The people there are black skinned, and they are descendants of Noah’s son Ham.
And the sons of Ham were Cush and Mizraim and Put and Canaan.
It was due to Moses having married a descendant of Ham, whom Noah cursed, that Miriam and Aaron criticized Moses. God judged Miriam for her disrespect toward Moses, striking her with leprosy.
What I wish to point out is that Moses had two wives, and it is possible, but not absolutely certain, that he had two wives who were both living, for nothing is mentioned of Zipporah having died. It is those who view polygamy as sin who would argue that Zipporah must certainly have died prior to Moses marrying the Cushite. We are not told that Zipporah had died. Moses delivered many laws to the people allowing for men to have more than one wife, so it must be considered that even Moses practiced plural marriage.
I would proceed on to look at a few Scriptures that have been used to condemn the practice of a man having more than one wife. They all come from the life of Christ, and are needful to consider.
“And I say to you, whoever divorces his wife, except for immorality, and marries another woman commits adultery.”
And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
“Every one who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery; and he who marries one who is divorced from a husband commits adultery.”
What is obvious from each of these verses is that divorce is the central matter being discussed. Christ is not addressing the practice of polygamy. If He had been, He would have said, “Every man who takes to himself more than one wife commits adultery.”
Christ came to fulfill the Law, and to make known the spirit of the Law. He did not come to reinterpret it, nor to alter its commands. As we have observed, the Law permitted a man to have more than one wife, so it must NOT be concluded from these words recorded by the gospel writers that Christ is declaring a man with more than one wife to be an adulterer.
Let us consider Christ’s words in light of a very similar statement that He made. It includes much of the same phrasing and context as the three verses cited, while adding additional insight.
“And it was said, ‘Whoever sends his wife away, let him give her a certificate of divorce’; but I say to you that everyone who divorces his wife, except for the cause of unchastity, makes her commit adultery; and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery.”
Here is the heart of the matter. The man who divorces his wife for any cause other than unchastity, or fornication (Greek ‘porneia’), is a transgressor in the eyes of God. The man’s transgression is two-fold. He makes his wife commit adultery, and he allows other men to commit adultery with her.
And He said to them, “Whoever divorces his wife and marries another (woman) commits adultery against her; and if she herself divorces her husband and marries another man, she is committing adultery.”
What is intended by the words, “commits adultery against her”? This is not the same as the common definition of a man committing adultery, for as we have seen, this is always defined as a man taking another man’s wife to himself. Does not the man who divorces his wife “commit adultery against her” by placing her in a situation where she must commit adultery to survive? Indeed, he does, and this was clearly what Christ was expressing in Matthew 5:31-32.
We see therefore, that Christ is not presenting a new definition of adultery for the man, nor is He now condemning the man who has more than one wife. What He is speaking of is the transgression of the man who divorces his wife for a reason other than ‘porneia.’ It is in the next chapter that we will look at the definition of porneia.
Matthew chapter 19, and Mark chapter 10, are describing the same encounter between Christ and the Pharisees, who had come to try to entrap Yahshua in His words.
And some Pharisees came to Him, testing Him, and saying, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife for any cause at all?”
The Pharisees came and asked Him, “Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” testing Him.
In each instance the question Christ is answering is whether a man may divorce his wife for any cause. The question was not whether a man may have more than one wife. Christ answers the Pharisees by saying that a man is only allowed to divorce his wife for the cause of fornication. If a man puts a wife away for any other reason, he commits adultery against her by causing her to enter into union with another man. This results in the woman, and the man who takes her for his wife, committing adultery.
This is all that we can declare from these verses. Comparing Scripture to Scripture we are able to arrive at the correct meaning of the words of Christ. He is not describing some new transgression that occurs when a man has more than one wife, for the Law did not declare polygamy to be transgression. Christ is instead, revealing the Father’s heart concerning a man putting away his wife with a writing of divorce. These are separate matters.
Let me conclude this matter of a Scriptural understanding of lawful polygamy by stating those points we have observed in the Scriptures.
• Polygamy has been practiced among mankind from the opening chapters of the Bible.
• Many righteous men had more than one living wife, among them were Abraham, Jacob and David.
• Yahweh blessed men through the offspring of their latter wives, not just their first wife.
• The Law that Yahweh delivered to Moses regulated polygamy, but did not forbid it.
• Yahweh described Himself as having more than one wife.
• Yahweh said He gave David his wives.
• Yahweh established certain Laws, such as that of the kinsman redeemer, that at times required a man to have more than one wife.
• Adultery for a man is defined as sexual intercourse with another man’s wife.
• Christ said a man would be causing his wife to commit adultery if he divorced her for any reason other than fornication.
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